To: Members of the University Community
From: Michele Rasmussen, Dean of Students in the University, and Eric Heath, Associate Vice President for Safety & Security
Subject: Extension of COVID-19 Restrictions Through April 21
Date: April 16, 2021
In order to prevent further spread of dangerous coronavirus variants on our campus and in nearby communities, the University and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) determined today that it is necessary to extend the current public health precautions for students in the College through Wednesday, April 21.
In addition, all undergraduates living off-campus in Chicago are to follow the stay-at-home directive through April 21, aligned with the directive for undergraduates in residence halls. Although most of the initial cases were among students living on campus, there have been enough off-campus cases that this additional precaution is necessary.
We know this decision will cause disappointment, in part because our community’s efforts already have greatly reduced the number of COVID-19 cases this week. The extension of restrictions is based on our and CDPH’s ongoing examination of the recent cluster of COVID-19 cases, which provides compelling reasons for continued caution. Specifically:
- New Variants – New variants of concern (including the UK variant or B.1.1.7, and the Brazilian variant P.1) are circulating in our area and there are preliminary indicators that these or other more transmissible variants are likely to be driving the current outbreak. In addition to being more contagious, some of these variants cause more severe disease even in younger or healthier individuals. For the health of our campus community and the city, it is vital to do all we can to prevent the further transmission of these variants which pose an added health threat.
- Time Lag Before Infection – So far it appears the peak of our cases occurred last week. However, subsequent cases could take up to 10-14 days after exposure to become apparent. CDPH and the University epidemiology team are in agreement that a longer stay-at-home period will help ensure that all related cases have been identified and the threat of additional spread is reduced.
- No Single Source – Although our initial investigation suggested that the cases began with one or more parties, further study by CDPH and UChicago indicates that there are multiple clusters, starting with individuals who were unknowingly infected over break. There was subsequent spread among students in smaller gatherings as well as larger parties. The ability of the variants to spread to so many College students in one week shows how important it is to prevent a larger outbreak.
- Links to Travel – It now appears that more than 60% of the cases were undergraduates who had traveled in the previous two weeks, making it difficult to pinpoint the source of any individual infection and increasing the risk of spreading variants of concern.
- Further Genomic Analysis – Public health authorities will study the genomic sequences of viruses involved in this outbreak. This will shed light on where the variants came from, how they have spread on campus, and whether they are linked to cases elsewhere in Chicago. It is important for students who are contacted by public health authorities to cooperate fully in this review.
- Preventing Further Transmission – Given the risks posed by these variants, we need additional days of strict precautions to reduce the chances of spread on our campus and beyond. While stay-at-home orders and isolation are difficult for everyone, making these sacrifices now will reduce the likelihood of ongoing spread.
Through April 21, the University will continue to hold all-remote classes for the College and will maintain the stay-at-home directive for undergraduates living in residence halls as well as those living off-campus. All in-person research and student positions for undergraduates are suspended through April 21; supervisors should consider whether remote options are possible.
While these are important precautions, our medical experts and CDPH see hopeful signs, including the lower number of cases identified this week – 60 overall, down from 97, and with far fewer close contacts reported to contact tracing. Experts at CDPH noted that UChicago is in a strong position to reduce the impact of these cases, thanks to widespread compliance with public health requirements as well as our robust system of surveillance testing and contact tracing. These tools should help us bring the numbers down even further.
We understand that this extension will cause additional stress, at a time when students already are managing pressures related to the pandemic, academic work, and many other sources. We are working to provide additional ways for students to cope with stress and maintain social connections during this difficult period, including:
- Residence Hall Courtyards – Residence halls will open their courtyard spaces for students, with the strict requirement of 6-feet of distancing and adherence to other public health requirements.
- Taking Breaks – The stay-at-home directive allows students to leave their residences to take a walk, to get meals or groceries, or for medical visits or vaccination appointments. It is important to follow the UChicago Health Pact when going outside – including wearing a face covering, keeping six feet of distance, and avoiding any large gatherings.
- Mental Health Resources – UChicago Student Wellness offers many ways of accessing mental health services. A therapist-on-call is available 24/7 at 773-702-3625. Students can call 773-834-WELL to schedule a phone or Zoom session with a clinician. Students can also meet with a therapist by dropping into a Let’s Talk session.
- Special Support Session – UChicago Student Wellness therapists will be offering a support session for students in housing this Sunday at 4:00 p.m. Students interested in attending this session should contact Dr. Anne Brody at email@example.com to receive a Zoom link.
If you are concerned you may have been exposed to COVID-19, please get tested immediately. It is vital to report any positive cases, symptoms or exposures to C19HealthReport@uchicago.edu so we can limit any further spread. Anyone who has been to a large gathering should schedule testing immediately, in addition to anyone who has traveled recently and has not been tested since returning. Faculty, academic appointees, postdoctoral researchers, and staff members should call the UChicago Medicine triage hotline at 773.702.2800 to arrange a test and receive any needed medical attention. Students should call UChicago Student Wellness at 773.834.WELL. Employees of UCM or the Biological Sciences Division may call 773.702.6819. Please encourage other students and colleagues to be as complete and forthcoming as possible with contact tracing. The more we know about these cases, the more granular and specific we can be with further actions to protect public health.
We are deeply grateful for the help of our entire community as we take these extra precautions to uphold the health and safety of our campus and our city.